Thursday 20 June 2019

Ian O'Doherty: 'Drug revelations go to the very heart of a culture of Tories telling porkies in our 'post-truth' society'

Prospective Tory leader Michael Gove. Photo: Reuters
Prospective Tory leader Michael Gove. Photo: Reuters
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

Traditionally, this is the time of year which marks the beginning of the so-called 'silly season'.

Politicians tend to go on their summer break, nothing of any serious import seems to happen and newspapers are left floundering for enough material to fill their pages.

Sadly, thanks to Brexit, we haven't actually had a season of silliness for the last few years. That's because the chaos and increasingly lunatic pronouncements from Tory ministers mean that silly season now runs 24/7, 12 months of the year.

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Truly, there is no rest for the wicked.

As the senior Conservative 'big beasts' roll up their sleeves this week and prepare to engage in the form of political fratricide more frequently known as a Tory leadership campaign, the main players have once again reminded us that the UK's future, and by extension our own, is in the hands of people who have repeatedly proven that they are simply not fit for high office.

Although just how 'high' that office might be is now a matter of legitimate conjecture.

Prospective Tory leader Michael Gove came out on Saturday and announced that he had taken cocaine in his previous job as a young journalist.

It certainly raised eyebrows and seemed an undeniably unusual approach to taking the reins of a party which prides itself on its commitment to law and order.

At the time, many Irish observers initially dismissed the revelation as the kind of thing you often hear from Irish politicians when they do the obligatory 'Hot Press' interview which asks them if they have ever smoked a joint.

But as the story developed, and the political splatter from Gove's admission began to contaminate his rivals, it became clear that we had entered a very different arena.

Some people have defended Gove, and lauded his honesty. Ironically, that support came from people who are never going to vote Conservative and simply saw his comments as a chance to open a wider debate about drug use and the often draconian punishments meted out.

But for Gove's heartland, such an admission from the former secretary of state for justice, who was directly responsible for enforcing drug laws, is a tougher pill to swallow.

The problem for Gove is twofold.

On the one hand, some Tory voters will never countenance the idea of supporting someone they now see as a drug user.

Even more damaging, however, is the rank stench of hypocrisy.

We've become used to seeing politicians play fast and loose with the facts - when they bother employing any facts at all.

But when it quickly emerged that Gove had even written a column excoriating middle-class drug users while hosting parties at which cocaine was present, the debate about past behaviour soon transformed into one about integrity and whether anyone should trust a man who could so brazenly lie to the public.

It was an act of gumption which, coincidentally, brings to mind Boris Johnson's infamous admission/boast that he wrote two separate and opposing articles on Brexit before checking which way the political winds were blowing. That prompted him to publish his pro-Brexit article, which has helped to land the continent in the mire.

Johnson initially tried to laugh off any questions about his own drug use and admitted only that he had tried it once and, like Woody Allen in 'Annie Hall', didn't enjoy it because he simply sneezed.

Of course, everyone laughed at the carefully cultivated image of hapless BoJo sneezing rather than snorting but, as with Gove, previous admissions were quickly exhumed.

That he told 'GQ' magazine he had previously consumed both cannabis and cocaine and could "remember them vividly" was the sign of another leadership candidate caught telling porkies.

Then, bizarrely, those admissions seemed to provoke a flurry of admissions from many of the leadership contenders.

In fact, eight of the 10 candidates have now admitted taking drugs at some stage in their lives.

So far, we've been treated to the humdrum, shrug-of-the-shoulders acknowledgement of smoking dope in college by the likes of Andrea Leadsom to the rather more exotic experiences enjoyed by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who once had "a cannabis lassi (a sort of milkshake) while backpacking through India".

Meanwhile, International Development Secretary Rory Stewart trumped his rivals when he decided that everyone should know he once smoked opium at a wedding in Iran.

To the cynic, this floodgate of confessions of previous drug consumption might help explain some of the inexplicable decisions made by senior Conservative figures in the last few years. But the rot goes much deeper than smoking a joint as a student or, in Stewart's case, enjoying opium at an Iranian wedding.

No, this goes to the very heart of a culture of almost pathological mendacity which has characterised the Tory leadership.

It's always dispiriting to see ordinary voters adopt an air of weary cynicism when it comes to politics and politicians. But it's a matter of genuine concern when the politicians are guilty of that same contempt for the democratic process.

We all accept that politicians are liable to bend the truth to suit their aims, that's why nobody ever reports a party political broadcast to the Advertising Standards Authority.

But when it's a case of downright and blatant lies, such as the infamous and quickly debunked claim about the UK sending the EU £350m a week, which could be diverted to the NHS, it's hard to tell who has the more jaundiced view of politics - the people or the politicians?

Much has been made of our so-called 'post-truth' society and nowhere is this illustrated in such stark detail as Boris Johnson, who seems either unwilling or simply incapable of telling the truth.

His latest jolly jape is to threaten to withhold the £39bn (€44bn) Brexit 'divorce' bill, which has caused fury in France and prompted the dark warnings that: "Not honouring your payment obligations is a failure of international commitments equivalent to a sovereign debt default, whose consequences are well known."

Then, just to prove that he isn't as woefully out of touch as his critics claim, he promised a new, £10bn tax cut to the wealthiest earners.

The best hope for any return to sanity in the months between now and the latest Brexit deadline of October 31 surely rests with one of the other nine candidates beating Johnson to the post.

But even then, we're simply hoping for the least bad of an awful bunch, which doesn't augur well.

Oh, to have a return to those lazy, innocent days of the summer silly season...

Irish Independent

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